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Sierra Leone Schools End 8-Month Ebola Closure

  • James Butty

FILE - Students arrive for class at the Every Nation Academy private school in the city of Makeni in Sierra Leone.

FILE - Students arrive for class at the Every Nation Academy private school in the city of Makeni in Sierra Leone.

Schools throughout Sierra Leone reopened Tuesday, more than eight months after classes were suspended due to the Ebola outbreak.

The World Health Organization said close to 4,000 people died in the West African country from the deadly virus.

Brima Turay, public relations officer of the Sierra Leone Ministry of Education, said the first day of classes was a success.

He said the government has put in place a number of Ebola prevention measures, including decontamination of schools and the distribution of hygiene kits.

“After so many concerns raised by parents as a result of Ebola in this country, we were able to put modalities in place to make sure that the school environment is safe. And so, when the kids actually came to the school environment, they were amazed, and we are very much happy to return back to school after being out of school over nine months,” he said.

Turay said the government, with the help of its international partners, has put in place Ebola prevention measures to create a safe-learning environment.

“We targeted decontamination, or disinfection, of schools that were used as holding centers or quarantine centers; we were also were able to distribute hygiene kits to all the schools across the country like soap, hand-washing detergent. Also, we were able to make sure that water is available in all the schools throughout the country,” Turay said.

He said, despite some lapses, the government was able to distribute about 65,000 thermometers to the country’s estimated 9,000 schools.

Turay said those measures, coupled with the government’s own social mobilization program, should be reassuring to the students that their schools are safe.

He said, during the time that the students were out school, the government put in place other measures to compensate for the loss of a learning time during the eight-month closure to make sure the students are not short-changed in their education.

“What we did, through the support of the government and our developments, we launched the radio and television teaching program, almost like bringing the classroom into the radio and television stations,” he said.

Turay also said the government has compressed the school year to make learning more accessible.

“It means all other extra-curriculum activities like sports, Thanksgiving celebrations, and all of the other activities that usually eat up the academic year, will all be structured to have school continuously during the remainder of the school year,” he said.

Turay said pregnant school girls are not allowed back in school in line with the policy of the West Africa Examination Council, which conducts public examinations.

“They wrote a letter as far back as 2010 to the Ministry of Education expressing serious concern about pregnant girls actually taking examinations and failing. The minister, at that time, took this complaint to the Sierra Leone Cabinet, and so there was a conclusion at the time not to allow pregnant girls in the classroom because it will demotivate those who are already there and are not pregnant,” he said.